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France cannot forget its complexity in Rwanda




This is not an appeal. This is a memorandum; is a statement to mark facts that have been forgotten, or ignored. While this may have been a story about my experience in the Rwandan Genocide, I do not want my words to be dismissed as another African testimony of the kind I often see devalued and discredited. Let me start at the beginning. Centuries ago, a peaceful people living in present-day Rwanda were radically divided by order of foreign governments. First was Germany, which ruled by an indirect rule. Then there was Belgium, which developed a system of government based on ethnicity. Then there was France, whose role I discuss here. These governments brought ideas of change, of otherness. In 1994, the same ideas were used to feed a genocide, one in which children would be orphaned and a million lives would be lost within weeks.
For twenty years Rwandans have come forward to prove that the French militia has been present in genocide and committed acts of genocide, such as rapes and murders, during this time. Evidence for this effect has been recorded by Rwanda Genocide Commission and have been exhibited at various Rwandan Genocide memorial sites. They have been brought forward in the international community, but to no avail. The testimonies of an entire nation have been devalued.
We, as Rwandans, understand this. We are all very familiar with this kind of racism. A subtle racism that exists only between the West and Africa, the colonizers and the colonized. The kind of racism in which the African mind is perceived to be incapable of knowing and feeling. One where stories told by a more influential nation take precedence over those of a smaller one, even in the face of astonishing evidence.
Over the years, the French government has had numerous responses to these claims. In one Article of 2007, guardian reports that former French President Mitterrand aided the Rwandan regime in 1994 with ammunition and soldiers, while at the same time flying senior government officials to France for shelter. In this article, former President Mitterrand responds with: In such countries, genocide is not important. This has also been reported by Le Figaro in a 1998 edition. In a recent one interview with Radio France International, former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner confirms that French government officials have trained the militia that committed acts of genocide and continued to supply weapons to these soldiers even after the killings began.
Earlier this week, the BBC published a article reporting that France had decided to withdraw from a memorial event in Rwanda because they believe the ongoing discussion of France’s role in the genocide is hampering reconciliation efforts. The BBC also reported that France had denied allegations of their involvement in the genocide. As has been the case since 1994, we see here that the French government seeks to define the criteria for reconciliation and seeks to write a story overseeing their role in genocide. This, I believe, is a disregard for human life.
Researchers say that the Rwandan Genocide had many causes, the magnitude of which cannot be explained in this short article. They discuss ethnic tensions, the existence of a minority and a majority, and differences in power between them. They think about the politics that was involved. However, they fail to mention their lack of role in genocide and its consequences. Where were the scholars during colonialism? Where were the scholars when Rwanda sought justice? Where are they today, when even the basic facts of genocide remain obscure?
Rwanda is not a special case; we have seen the international community and academia allow powerful nations to erase the stories of the weakest before and since. However, I have to ask: can we do better?
Despite the terrible actions of the French government, Rwanda continues to rebuild. Her people have chosen to remember the genocide wisely and thoroughly. They are trying to get out of poverty and return to peace. They are writing their story and this reflection is the beginning of exactly that.
Image credit: BBC News

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